Saturday, September 27, 2008

A missed thank you


Life is shaped by experiences and the people you rub up against as you go through it.
Lynn Leavell was a close friend of mine. He grew up directly across Seventh Street in Dolores from me. As kids we catacombed entire city blocks with Tonka Truck tunnels, under sidewalks, through city storm sewer systems and in to neighbor’s yards. In the winter, when city crews created 30-foot piles in the middle of the street, we would tunnel through them as well.
I can’t remember a grade in elementary school when he wasn’t in my class. He had 12 years perfect attendance. I missed a day in third grade. We walked the five blocks to school every day together and Granny (his technically), who was a cook at the school cafeteria, would always offer us something when we arrived.
When we both were 11, we went into business together with a Durango Herald paper route that covered the whole town. He took “upriver,” I had “downriver.” We bought 10-speed bikes with some of the first of that money and rode the all the way to Cortez and back a few times. Our folks were ready to ground both of us for life when they found out, but they were usually about ready to ground us for life. They were probably still cussing us in recent years during their regular “community updates” in front of the Leavell or the Carrigan house or in the unpaved street between.
In high school, he was the student architect and quarterback behind a number of Dolores’ successful Single A football seasons, even though his cousin Scott was the star. That didn’t stop him from being easily the most identifiable Dolores Bear, with an Orange Crush bandana and anything else flashy that Coach Rice allowed him to get away with wearing to perpetuate his regional reputation as a Prima Donna.
We worked together off and on at the hardware store, me being the boss by virtue of six months seniority.
He bought a motorcycle and used to wear this army-surplus leather aviation helmet and old-fashioned aviator goggles with the Orange Crush bandana as he scooted through, the sagebrush, scrub oak, juniper and pinion “downriver.”
Today that whole area is under 500 feet of McPhee Reservoir. I had to buy a motorcycle myself so I wouldn’t miss out on swimming with the “bonedigger” girls at Big Rock. College students from Washington State University and University of Colorado did $7 million worth of archeology in that river valley before water started to backup the eight miles into town. Lynn, myself, and the rest of our friends knew every square inch of the lake bottom.
We had regionally famous run-ins with local history and mythology. We lived true stories. Stories that you could never have imagined on your own — things like brushes with death and catching a local politico with someone other than his wife “buck naked” in a cave. Government agencies are probably still looking for someone to pin a killer phone bill on from the old Graystone farmhouse where we had big ol’ party our senior year. The Graystone two-story was one of the few structures left on the lake bottom for fish habitat. Folks tell me they catch monster trout in that area today.
When we graduated from high school, Lynn, James Biard, and myself pooled our resources and purchased what we were later to decide was an excessive amount of Tennessee sour mash in celebration. James tells me he doesn’t care much for sour mash to this day. Except for medicinal purposes, I avoid it myself.
Lynn went to Mesa State in Grand Junction and I went a year to Fort Lewis College before transferring to Colorado State University in Fort Collins. Dolores kids and folks that we knew from Mancos, Cortez, Dove Creek, Pagosa, Bayfield would run into each other at college, and road trip back and forth with abandon. His friends at Mesa, became our friends at Fort Lewis, and with others we knew at School of Mines, and Boulder, and Western State and CSU and Adams State and Metro and UNC and where ever else we circulated.
Some how after college Lynn ended up in Akron as a teacher and assistant football coach under Coach Rice. When Rice left, he became head coach, and eventually principal of Akron High School. Most years his teams were successful in making it to the state playoffs at least, and by most accounts, Lynn lived at the school. He married, had two boys and one day, after trying to figure out why he couldn’t see as well as he used to, was diagnosed with an inoperable tumor that wrapped around stem of his brain.
For eight years he fought the cancer, and also lived his life, principaling, finishing a masters degree, continuing to coach, teach, raising his kids, working summers for the city as rec department coordinator — and always the Prima Donna, tooling around Akron with a pith helmet on.
One May, having received a call from Lynn’s family informing us that the experimental wafers that they put in his head were not working, myself and another buddy from Dolores, Rusty Hector, went to visit him in Akron. We spent the day going over some of our mutual history and things were pretty normal with him. He remembered with great clarity events in Dolores 20 years hence but seemed to slip a few gears when it came to recalling things he had told us that morning. By the end of August, a few weeks from his 35th birthday, he was dead.
That was more than 10 years ago. I learned a million things over the years with Lynn and from him. There are really two main lessons that I think standout. Life is short — and winning isn’t everything, but trying to win, makes it interesting. I never really thanked him.
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